The study took place in 17 Chicago Public Schools that participated in the study during the summers of 2011 and 2012. Schools were recruited to participate in the research because they had summer school programs and large numbers of students who failed Algebra I in the second semester of their freshman year.
Over the two summers, 1,224 students participated. There were 613 students assigned to the intervention (online) condition, while 611 students were assigned to the comparison (face-to-face) condition. Eleven schools participated in both 2011 and 2012, four participated in 2011 only, and two schools participated in 2012 only. Each school had at least two credit recovery courses: one online, and the other face-to-face.
There were 63 school staff who participated as either teachers and/or mentors. Over the two cohorts, there were 34 face-to-face algebra teachers and 30 in-class mentors. Aventa Learning, the online course provider, selected six online teachers for the study, all of whom were certified to teach mathematics.
Students in the intervention condition were 38% female and 56% Latino, while the comparison condition was 37% female and 58% Latino. The full sample (i.e., not disaggregated by condition) was 38% female, 57% Hispanic, 33% African American, 8% White, and 2% other races/ethnicities. In the full sample, 86% of the students were eligible for free or reduced-price lunch, 12% were eligible for special education services, and 47% were native Spanish speakers. The proportion of students who passed Algebra IA (first semester of Algebra) was similar across groups (40% in the intervention group and 41% in the comparison group). Only 5% of students in each condition came from census blocks with concentrated poverty.
Summer Algebra credit recovery courses designed by Aventa Learning were offered to high school students who had failed Algebra I in the second semester of their freshman year. The intervention condition was an online course that focused on typical second-semester Algebra I (designed as a 60-hour course). This included systems of equations, polynomials, quadratics and radicals, rational expressions, and exponentials. The instructional content of the online version was standardized with clear ordering of topics, but flexible in terms of student pacing (in face-to-face classes, teachers have flexibility of content and sequencing, but pacing is generally uniform for the whole class). The online courses were delivered via computer in computer labs at the high schools. Each course was taught by two instructors: one online teacher and one in-class mentor. The course took place over one or both of two 3- to 4-week summer sessions at each participating school.
The comparison condition received traditional, face-to-face Algebra I instruction by a certified mathematics instructor. The content tended to include both second semester Algebra I topics, as well as pre-Algebra and first semester Algebra I topics; about 50% of the content was from the second semester Algebra I course, while the remaining 50% was derived from first semester Algebra and pre-Algebra courses. The course took place over one or both of two 3- to 4-week summer sessions at each participating school. Face-to-face courses had one instructor and were delivered in traditional classrooms. The face-to-face courses used teacher-created and published materials, including textbooks. Teachers had flexibility of content and sequencing, but pacing was generally uniform for the whole class. In-class mentors provided feedback and communication on students’ progress.
Support for implementation
The in-class mentors and the face-to-face teachers were paid their regular teaching rates, and the online teachers were paid by the number of students enrolled in the course, which ended up being slightly higher than face-to-face teachers. In-class mentors received training on how to use the online course system, how to monitor student progress, and how to communicate with online teachers. The online teachers received ongoing professional development and support from Aventa. The face-to-face teachers received traditional supports from their schools and district for teaching summer Algebra classes.